Letting Go of the Plan in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
The boat wove slowly through the watery veins of a lush jungle. Emerald mountains rose like giant shoulders hunched over a secret as locks of vines draped from an invisible head, rich with a cacophony of parrots and monkeys.
Boarding this boat in Sierpe, the tiny town at the foot of the estuary atop Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, hadn’t been part of the plan. The plan was scribbled in ballpoint pen on a sheet of lined notebook paper that I had crumpled into a ball as I packed for my 6-month surf trip through Central America and Mexico.
Linking up with other female travelers made me feel safe and presented an opportunity to have a different experience than I would have planned for myself.
Beside me sat two German girls, Kira and Clara, whom I had met at the bus station the day before. After missing my stop on the bus, I had asked to borrow their map.
As they pointed out the vast green realm of the Osa Peninsula, the next stop on their adventure, I knew that I wanted to join them.
“You should stay with us tonight. We can split a hotel room.” Kira had said, reading my thoughts.
“Thanks, that sounds great.” I had meant it.
The last thing I wanted was to show up alone, after dark, in an unfamiliar town on the first night of my trip. Linking up with other female travelers made me feel safe and presented an opportunity to have a different experience than I would have planned for myself.
The boat emerged from the mangrove into open ocean, dotted with small islands of brownish gray rock which lined our surreal path to Jungla del Jaguar, the remote hostel where we would be staying. As we pulled up to a tiny beach framed with palm trees, a crew materialized from the jungle and hoisted our luggage overhead, carrying it through the waist-high water and up the hill to the dorms.
We were greeted by Leo Ramsey, the hostel manager, who had grown up in the rustic cabin that now served as the common area for Jungla del Jaguar. Unsurprisingly, Leo shared my love of surfing and diving.
“It sounds like you’re pretty confident in the ocean,” he said. “Would you be up for going spearfishing tomorrow?”
“I would love that!” I agreed.
The next day, we loaded fishing gear into a kayak and paddled out to one of the rock islands. My job was to hold onto the kayak and watch out for sharks. Leo speared four snapper and a parrotfish in a matter of minutes while I snorkeled around and checked out the rainbow of coral and variety of tropical fish. When we got back to shore, Leo gave me a lesson in scaling and filleting. And just like that, we had dinner for everyone at the hostel.
The waterfalls were especially intriguing—they sounded like a miniature version of the Seven Sacred Pools in Hawaii, minus the crowds.
With a rush of adrenaline from the experience, I couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the Osa. The waterfalls were especially intriguing—they sounded like a miniature version of the Seven Sacred Pools in Hawaii, minus the crowds. The only problem was that they were several hours’ walk away, closer to Drake Bay.
“You’re a pretty good swimmer.” Leo observed. “You could ask one of the boats to drop you off near Drake and swim in to the beach. Then you’d only have to walk one way.”
He was speaking my language. I stuffed a pair of sport sandals, a bottle of water, and a tube of sunscreen into my backpack and hitched a ride from a passing boat. The captain slowed down as we passed a beach so that I could jump off of the boat and swim to shore. Emerging on the sand, I walked to the base of the river mouth and befriended a couple of beachgoers on the way.
The three of us headed upriver, swimming against a gentle current under a lavish canopy of trees which provided a shady respite from the blistering heat. Soon we came upon a rope tied along a muddy cliff and climbed up to find a freshwater wonderland. A series of waterfalls cascaded into deep turquoise pools, bordered by rocks that we could scale and jump off of. There were nooks, crannies, and caves to explore, with tiny shrimp, lobsters and fish darting in between them.
After a full day of swimming and diving, it was time to head back to the hostel. I had several hours of hiking ahead of me and didn’t want to risk getting caught in the jungle after dark. After strapping on my sandals and reapplying my sunscreen, I headed down the coastal trail that served as the main thoroughfare for the Osa’s inhabitants.
An assortment of monkeys, parrots, spiders, and snakes outnumbered the count of people as I followed the dirt path through the jungle, up vine-laden switchbacks and over bubbling streams, across white sand beaches and gray pockets of sticky, sucking mud.
It was well into the afternoon and my water bottle was tapped. Off the side of the trail, I spotted several coconuts that had fallen from a tree. Grasping a coconut firmly between my hands, I raised it over my head and brought it down repeatedly against the sharp edge of a rock until it cracked and spurted.
Drinking the sweet, warm coconut water was the highlight of my trip. Letting go of the plan made room for new friends and for the magic of exploring one of Costa Rica’s truly wild places.
Letting Go of the Plan in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula